Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told Congress at a Thursday hearing that the Pentagon’s 2024 budget request will help the country prepare for a future war with China.
Milley insisted the Pentagon’s massive $842 billion budget request is meant to deter war but said it will also prepare the US military to fight one. He told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense that deterring and preparing for a conflict "is extraordinarily expensive, but it’s not as expensive as fighting a war. And this budget prevents war and prepares us to fight it if necessary."
The Pentagon identified China as the "most comprehensive and serious challenge to US national security strategy" in the 2022 National Defense Strategy, and lately, US military leaders have been speaking more explicitly about how they’re preparing for a direct war with China despite the risk of nuclear war. President Biden has also vowed to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
Milley said China’s actions "are moving it down the path toward confrontation and potential conflict with its neighbors and possibly the United States," echoing similar warnings made by Chinese officials.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned earlier this month that if the US doesn’t change course on its military buildup in the Asia Pacific and other policies aimed at China, it will lead to "conflict and confrontation." The Pentagon’s budget request will further expand the US military footprint in the region by funding a buildup plan known as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative.
"This budget includes a 40 percent increase over last year’s for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to an all-time high of $9.1 billion," Austin said at the hearing.
"That will fund a stronger force posture, better defenses for Hawaii and Guam, and deeper cooperation with our allies and partners," the top general added.
For China hawks in Congress, what the Pentagon has asked to spend in 2024 is not enough. Including funding for other agencies, President Biden’s military spending request totals $886.4 billion. Congress is expected to add tens of billions more as it did with Biden’s 2022 and 2023 requests.